• Teen pregnancies have dropped steadily in the last five years for girls under 19 years
• The county budgets Sh400 million each year to sponsoring bright, needy students
Before the devolution government, cases of teen pregnancies were rampant in Kwale county.
Thousands of schoolchildren had become young mothers and their futures were shattered forever.
Incest, defilement, early marriages and rape cases wreaked havoc, with culprits walking scot-free.
The burden of responsibility piled not only on the parents but also on the children who have given birth to children.
Poverty and illiteracy took hold of the residents.
The region used to lead from the bottom in the national exams and reported the highest numbers of teen pregnancies.
A report released in 2019 by the United Nations Population Funds (UNFPA) showed that Tana River, Kwale and Kilifi had the highest prevalence rate of teen pregnancies at the Coast.
Kwale was standing at 24 per cent higher than the national average of 18 per cent.
At times like this, when students were preparing to have the national exams, most girls would be busy nursing their children.
But the trend of teen pregnancies is slowly being reversed by concerted efforts to end the problem.
The latest county health department data shows that the cases have dropped by a big margin.
County nursing officer Edward Mumbo said the cases have dropped by 22.6 per cent in six years.
"In 2016 teen pregnancies were at 39.8 per cent. In June last financial year, they dropped to 20 per cent and in the past three months to 17.2 per cent," he said.
Mumbo said the cases have been steadily dropping in the last five years for girls below 19 years.
He said the decrease in figures of teen pregnancies in the region is a clear indication the county can win the war on the menace if more efforts are added.
Kwale Governor Fatuma Achani said the teen pregnancies have plummeted following the heightened cooperation between the national government, county and NGOs.
From 2014, the county government has been launching several initiatives to suppress teen pregnancies and early marriages.
The Elimu Ni Sasa learning programme is one of the many successful plans that has helped harness the teen pregnancy menace.
The county budgets Sh400 million each year to sponsoring bright, needy students.
So far, the county is sponsoring 4,600 students in universities and 7,800 in national schools.
About 75,000 other students are being sponsored in county and extra-county schools.
At least 2,500 university fully sponsored students have graduated.
Achani said the programme has ensured boys and girls remain in school and improve in academics.
"The learning support we give to our children has empowered them. It has enhanced resilience since girls are focused on education," she said.
The learning support we give to our children has empowered them. It has enhanced resilience since girls are focused on educationFatuma Achani
Achani said the county has further moved to create a concrete education foundation through the construction of Early Childhood and Development Education facilities.
About 514 new fully furnished ECDEs have been constructed. Enough and well-trained teachers were employed to give children the best education.
Before 2013, there were only 319 ECDEs schools mixed in primary schools.
At least 909 ECDE teachers are on permanent and pensionable terms. Before devolution, only 23 teachers had been employed.
Achani said the schools have feeding programmes that have helped address absenteeism and enhanced learning concentration and nutrition.
Most Kwale children come from poor families and used to drop out because of hunger which in turn contributed to teen pregnancies and early marriages.
Many students could be married off before finishing their primary education and a few would make it to secondary schools and universities due to a lack of money and old traditions and culture that undermine girls’ education.
Achani said the county has also managed to bring health and water services to the doorsteps of common citizens.
She said the women and girls no longer have to walk long distances to seek crucial services.
“We are not yet there, but we have tried our best in increasing water connectivity and providing health services close to citizens,” she said.
Achani added that sex predators have found it hard to prey on school girls since water is readily available.
She said many people are taking advantage of the long distance to defile girls and rape women.
Achani said her leadership from being a deputy governor to governor has inspired many girls who want to be like her.
She said girls are now serious about education and would not want any man to mess with their future.
Australian mining firm Base Titanium’s Pepea Scholarship programme has motivated schoolchildren, especially girls, to work hard.
The company offers around 400 scholarships each year to academically gifted students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The girls have been enlightened on their rights and parents know what are GBVs and how to report themEdward Mumbo
The county chief said NGOs have also played a major role in suppressing the scourge.
She said the county in partnership with rights organisations, civil societies and children's organisations, has been conducting a series of sensitisation and awareness programmes.
Mumbo said the awareness programmes have yielded positive results in transforming the lives of Kwale's young girls.
He said a huge percentage of parents has joined the fight against GBV and forced early marriages.
"The girls have been enlightened on their rights and parents know what are GBVs and how to report them," he said.
Samba Sports Youth Agenda Partnerships adviser Mohammed hailed the multiagency approach in tracking teen pregnancy cases.
He said various stakeholders have had a part in reducing the phenomenon.
Mwachausa said different NGOs have been reaching out to girls and the communities, teaching them the importance of educating girls and protecting them.
He, however, said even though the cases have slightly reduced, it is not time to rest.
Mumbo also advised parents to up their parental responsibilities and continue to jealously protect girls.
Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa programmes officer Esther Ndinya said the cases are dropping because many girls are empowered and are dreaming big compared to before.
She said many girls are engaged in mentorship and development programmes.
Ndinya said many Kwale communities have abandoned the retrogressive traditions and treat women and men as equals compared to the past years.
Hazina Youth Group chairperson Hazina Saidi said the communities have embraced equal rights and girls’ education.
She said more parents are sending their children to schools and giving them the necessary support that has helped stem teen pregnancies.
County commissioner Gideon Oyagi hailed the 100 per cent education transition for putting both parents and students in check.
Oyagi said the local authorities in the region, with the help of chiefs, village elders and Nyumba Kumi heads, ensure that all students have reported back to school and the missing ones are traced.
“The government is determined to monitor the progress of our children and we are working in a 24-hour clock to keep them in school for education,” he said.
County education director Martin Cheruiyot said the 100 per cent transition, enhanced cooperation between stakeholders and bursary programmes have assisted in keeping girls in schools.
He said there is increased focus on matters of education in the region with awareness programmes proving to be effective.
“Most children have set their goals high. That’s why you see more girls embracing education, hence the reduction of teen pregnancies,” he said.
He said there has been an increase in the number of girls registering for the national examinations for both KCPE and KCSE compared to before.
For example, in the 2021 national exams, about 8,969 candidates registered for KCSE: 4,601 girls and 4,368 boys.
Sauti ya Wanawake chairperson Mwanakombo Jarumani stands to differ with the county statistics.
She said parents and girls have devised new ways of dealing with teen pregnancies.
Jarumani said pregnant girls seek medical services in other counties and sometimes shift their residence until they give birth.
"The numbers in our health facilities will go down because nowadays the girls have their clinics in Mombasa or Kilifi," she said.
Jarumani said the parents have learnt that in Kwale, teen pregnancy cases are taken seriously by the local authorities.
She said many teen pregnancies go unreported. According to her, 325 cases were recorded in the grassroots between February and September.
Jarumani blamed parents for pampering their children. She added that poverty has also contributed to early pregnancies in the region.
Mwachausa said the cases might have gone down because some parents take their girls for family planning.
He said the parents secretly inject the girls but don't tell them, a factor he termed to be the cause of escalating HIV infections among the youth.
In September, the National Syndemic Disease Control Council data showed Kwale's HIV infection rate was at 3.2 per cent, with young people being the most affected.